committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

THE EVILS OF INFANT BAPTISM

By Robert Boyt C. Howell

CHAPTER 13

INFANT BAPTISM IS AN EVIL BECAUSE IT LEADS TO RELIGIOUS PERSECUTIONS.

Testimony from the nature of Pedobaptism; from its political associations; from the sources upon which it relies for support; from facts.

INFANT baptism leads to religious persecutions. Of this fact I shall proceed at once to submit the amplest testimony.

The first argument to which I call your attention in proof of the proposition before us, is found in the nature of pedobaptism itself. It brings into the church the whole population of the country where it prevails. All are baptized, and admitted to membership. Every class and condition are necessarily included. Such a church must inevitably, and to a great extent, be ignorant of spiritual things, and essentially irreligious. The great mass, we all know, of every community, grow up without religion; and although, according to Pedobaptism, in the church, and entitled to all its privileges, are full of sensuality and worldliness. The majority of members, therefore, especially in countries where infant baptism is fully carried out, know nothing of the renewing grace of God, and are governed in their feelings and pursuits by considerations entirely of earth. It cannot be expected, therefore, to feel much interest in holy things, or to exercise that love and forbearance towards others inculcated in the word of God, and especially if they appear to them to manifest disrespect or stubbornness. The persons who compose its several departments have their ambition to consult, their hatred to gratify, their superiors to please, and their schemes of personal aggrandizement to accomplish. This is the character and spirit with which infant baptism must in the nature of things imbue the church. Woe to him, therefore, who shall be found in the way of any of its purposes or designs. He must, he will be crushed. Such a church infant baptism makes. It will inevitably be a persecuting church. This conclusion is confirmed by the history of all ages. Previous to the reign of Constantine, no such thing existed as the persecution of Christians by each other. They were all full of affection, forbearance, and kindness. Whatever might be the errors of their brethren, the thought did not occur to them that they might do more than express their disapproval, and formally withdraw from them. Immediately after that period infant baptism became general, and persecutions commenced. The scenes of cruelty and blood which have since been enacted, fill all who contemplate them with the deepest horror! It is unquestionably true, therefore, that infant baptism leads to religious persecutions.

A second proof is found in the political connection which, when practicable, infant baptism always assumes. We have just seen in the last chapter, that it is the grand foundation upon which rests the union of church and state. Without infant baptism, no such union is possible. And the fact: is well known that every state church in all ages, and in all countries, has been a persecuting church. This is true even of heathenism, as well as of Christianity, Nebuchadnezzar compelled his subjects, of whatever creed, upon pain of death, to bow down to his golden idol. Darius thought it excellent policy to establish a royal decree that no prayer should be offered to any god but himself for thirty days. The Greek legislators forbade the exercise of any but the national religion. Draco punished departures from the established faith with death. Plato thought that every such act should be denounced to the magistrate as a crime. Aristotle allowed but one national form of religion. Socrates was sentenced to drink the hemlock, and died for the crime of heresy. Established religions in Christendom have been conducted on the same principles, and have been equally as exclusive, as intolerant, and as bloody as paganism. Heathens, in common with Jews, persecuted the followers of Christ, as long as they had any ability. Infant baptism was introduced, the church was united with the state, and Christianity immediately began to walk in the footsteps of Heathenism and Judaism. From that to the present day, the history of every state church, Popish and Protestant, has been the same. But no state church could ever have existed without infant baptism. Infant baptism, therefore, is justly chargeable with all their persecutions.

A third proof is derived from the source of the main argument upon which infant baptism relies for support. The appeal of its friends is now, and has been for many ages, to Judaism. In Judaism they find their "scripture testimony," for the union of church and state. In Judaism also they obtain ample authority for all their persecutions. Judaism is now the grand platform upon which all these principles stand. There all of them are alike sustained. If infant baptism is right, a state religion is right, and persecution is right. Look into Pedobaptist standards, Popish and Protestant, and you will find that they maintain their doctrines, and defend their proceedings, by appeals to the laws of the Hebrews. Does any man dare to differ from the established religion? Each priest is another Samuel, and armed with the same powers. He therefore hews the presumptuous Agags to pieces before the Lord. In the same scriptures that support their forms of ecclesiastical organizations, they find commands to punish those who depart from the doctrines, or violate the precepts of their religion. Can we be surprised, then, that such a church should practice persecution? It would be wonderful if it did not.

In proof that infant baptism leads to religious persecutions, I, in the last place, appeal to facts.

Popery before the Reformation, poured out upon our Baptist Fathers all the fury of its malignant heart. Nor could any thing better have been expected, since the oath taken by her Bishops at their consecration, and similar ones are made by every inferior priest, is as follows:?"I will persecute and oppose all heretics, and schismatics, to the utmost of my power."1 And most fully do they perform their vows. I will not, however, here recount the horrid details of her cruelties, practiced in every disgusting and execrable form. They may be read in the Histories of the Church by Ivimy, Jones, Benedict, and others. From the third to the fifteenth century they were hunted down and destroyed like wild beasts. They "had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins, and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, (of whom the world was not worthy.) They wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and caves of the earth." (Hebrews 11:36-38.)

This was the measure meted to us by popery. And after the Reformation, did our Baptist Fathers receive kinder treatment from Protestants? No; in no respect whatever. They were still pursued with the same relentlessness. The Papists and the Protestants destroyed each other, in every possible manner. Never were enemies more bitter, or uncompromising. In but one thing upon earth was it possible for them to agree, and that was in persecuting the Baptists. This was carried so far that in several of their treaties, both in Germany and Switzerland, as D?Aubigne confesses in his History of the Reformation, a special article was inserted binding both parties to use every possible effort to destroy all the Baptists in Europe. Let us briefly enter into this history, and see how far the Protestants fulfilled their part of the obligation they assumed. Thus we shall have laid open before us more fully the persecutions into which infant baptism hurries its friends.

"Luther, on his return from Wittenberg," says D?Aubigne, "extinguished in Germany the fanaticism of the Anabaptists."2 How he did this is, for his own fame, but too well remembered by every reader of history. Nor were he, and his friends, content to destroy them in their own land. They followed them with cruel hatred even into other countries. For example, Dr. Cox says:?"The princes of Germany, having discovered by means of intercepted letters, a secret correspondence between the German and English Anabaptists, wrote an epistle to Henry VIII., containing a statement of their pernicious doctrines, and warning him of danger likely to result from their fanatical proceedings, unless prevented by a bold and timely interference."3 This "epistle" of "the princes of Germany," we are specially informed, was advised by Luther, and written by Melancthon. It was their work. How attentive Henry, and his successors, were to the advice it contained, the prisons of the "United Kingdom," and especially the fires of Smithfield, bear ample testimony.

In Switzerland our brethren met the same fate as in other countries. "This fanaticism," says the Pedobaptist chronicler of the Reformation, "reappeared in Switzerland, where it threatened the edifice which Zuingle, Haller, and Ecolampadius had erected on the word of God." "Grebel [a Baptist minister] endeavored to gain over Zuingle. It was in vain that the latter had gone further than Luther. ? Let us,? says Grebel,? form a community of true believers, for it is to them alone that the promise belongs; and let us establish a church that shall be without sin.? But Zuingle would neither hear Grebel himself, nor permit him to speak to the people." He then turned in another direction. Roubli, an aged minister of Basle, Brodtlein, minister of Zollikon, and Lewis Herzer, welcomed his advances. They resolved on forming an independent body in the center of the general community, or church within the church. A new baptism 4 was to be their instrument for gathering their congregations, which were to consist exclusively of true believers. "The baptism of infants," said they, "is a horrible abomination,5 a flagrant impiety, invented by the evil spirit and by Pope Nicholas II. The Council of Zurich, in some alarm, directed that a public discussion should be held, and as the Anabaptists still refused to relinquish their errors, some of them who were natives of Zurich were imprisoned, and others who were foreigners were banished. But persecution only inflamed their zeal." "Fourteen men," he remarks, "and seven women were arrested," "and imprisoned on an allowance of bread and water, in the heretic?s tower. After a fortnight?s confinement, they managed, by removing some planks in the floor, to effect their escape during the night." "They were joined by George Jacob Coira, surnamed Blourock, a man of distinguished powers, and many others. While Zuingle was attempting to stem the torrent of Anabaptism at Zurich, it quickly inundated St Gall. Grebel arrived there, and was received by the brethren with acclamations; and on Palm Sunday he proceeded to the banks of the Lithe, attended by a great number of his adherents, whom he there baptized." "Zuingle wrote a tract on baptism, which the Council of St. Gall ordered to be read in the churches." To this the only answer of these Baptists was, "Give us the word of God, and not the words of Zuingle." "Do you keep the doctrines of Zuingle; as for us, we will keep the word of God." The Council, overcome in argument, and put to shame by the truth, now resorted to other measures. They condemned Mentz to be drowned, and the sentence was immediately executed. Blouroek was scourged with rods, and banished by these pious Protestants, Soon afterwards, falling into the hands of the Papists, he was burned at the stake. Multitudes of others also suffered invarious ways little less severely than did Mentz and Blaurock. But do Lutherans and Zuinglians now justify such conduct? D?Aubigne, the writer I have recited, and who is of our own day, apologizes for it thus:?"Undoubtedly the spirit of rebellion existed among these Anabaptists; undoubtedly the ancient ecclesiastical law which condemned heretics to capital punishment was still in force, and the Reformation could not in the space of one or two years reform every thing; nor can we doubt that the Catholic states would have accused their Protestant neighbors of encouraging in subjection, if the latter had not resorted to severe measures against these enthusiasts."6 "Rebellion!" What rebellion? The refusal to submit their consciences to the magistrate? Of this the Baptists were guilty. It was rebellion! Then there was an "old ecclesiastical law," forsooth! But this was a Popish law, and it condemned Zuingle as clearly as it did Mantz or Blourock. They were just now especially desirous not to scandalize their Catholic neighbors! They must therefore imprison, banish, drown, and burn these Baptists! And I regret to say that similar persecutions are thus carried on until the present hour. In which of the prisons on continental Europe, where Baptists are found, have not our ministers, and our people, within the last, five years, been incarcerated? But tell me, what impulse moved, and still moves them to all this? Was it not infant baptism? Their denial of infant baptism was expressly assigned as the main cause! Infant baptism undoubtedly, therefore, leads to religious persecutions. It undoubtedly produced all these evils.

Let us turn for a moment to England. There, from the day of the burning of Sawtre and Brute,7 almost to our times, persecutions against Baptists, have raged with the utmost violence. Protestants in our fatherland, could bear almost any thing else with more patience than opposition to infant baptism. Our sympathies have been moved a thousand times in our childhood, and we have wept over Cranmer, Ridley, Rogers, and others, who fell martyrs under the hands of the Papists. By pictures, easy lessons, and essays, in primers and Sabbath-school books, in our infancy and by declamations in riper years, our sorrows have been called forth for their sufferings. I refer to this fact not to condemn it. These great men were cruelly butchered. But I am obliged to say that our feelings have been abused in this matter. Where are our sympathies, and our tears, for our own brethren whom these very men murdered in cold blood as really as David did Uriah? Ah, of this no primers, or other schoolbooks, have told us! And yet these men had before dealt to many a Baptist, the cup that they were at last obliged themselves to drink from the hands of the Roman Catholics. Take, if you please, an example or two in illustration. Laws were passed in England to search after Baptists, and to bring them to punishment. "The bishops named in the commission" for the performance of this work, "were Cranmer, Ridley, Goodrich, Heath, Scorey, and Holbrach," who executed their bloody office with singular ferocity.8 Joan of Kent, a distinguished lady, and a Baptist, was among the first apprehended. She was unceremoniously condemned to be burned alive at the stake. The death-warrant was laid before the young King Edward. He refused to sign it. Cranmer was deputed to persuade him to do so. How did the archbishop discharge his office? He "argued," says the analyst, "from the law of Moses, according to which blasphemers were to be stoned." He said "that there were impieties against God which a prince, being his deputy, ought to punish just as the king?s deputies were obliged to punish offenses against the king?s person." "Plied with such arguments," Burnet says,9 "the young king was rather silenced than convinced." "He set his hand to the warrant with tears in his eyes, telling Cranmer that if he did wrong, as it was done in submission to his authority, he [the archbishop] should answer for it to God." And most sternly, and soon, did he answer for it. Again: In whose mind is not the picture of John Rogers at the stake, with his wife and children around him, indelibly imprinted? A distinguished gentleman, when the lady spoken of, who is called by the historian "an illustrious female," was condemned, went to Rogers, and besought him to exert his influence to save her, or at least to procure her a less dreadful death. Rogers manifested much indifference, said "she ought to be put to death," and jestingly observed, "Burning alive is not a cruel death, but easy enough?" On hearing these words, which expressed so little regard for the poor woman?s sufferings, his friend replied with great vehemence, at the same time striking Rogers? hand, which before he had held fast, "Well, perhaps it may so happen that you yourselves will one day have your hands full of this mild burning." And so indeed, in the providence of God, it did happen. And yet more. In a sermon before Edward VI., Bishop Latimer speaks of the fearless intrepidity with which went to the stake "the Anabaptists that were [then] lately burned in divers towns in England." These were the men, Cranmer, and Ridley, and Latimer, and Rogers, who burned Baptists by scores, and who were afterwards themselves burned by the Papists. They were no better, and died no more unjustly, or cruelly, than their Baptist victims.

"What measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again." Our sympathies should be at least as warm for our own brethren and sisters, as for the titled dignitaries by whom they were so cruelly destroyed. Of the horrible details of persecutions practiced in after years, in England, in which thousands fell who were among the best and holiest men the world ever saw, I will not speak. I add only, that their principal crime was the denial of infant baptism. This was an offense so enormous that they could not be forgiven. If favors were extended to other criminals, Baptists were always excepted from their provisions. Whoever else escaped, they were sure to suffer. "The [solemn league and covenant] Confession of Faith" of "the Church of Scotland"?Presbyterian?contains the following passages, which were subscribed, and sworn to by every minister who entered their pulpits?"The defense of Christ?s church appertaineth to the Christian magistrate, against all idolaters and heretics, as papists, and Anabaptists, etc., to root out all doctrines of devils and men, etc."10 "The examples of scripture do plainly declare that the abusers of the sacraments, and contemners of the word, are worthy of death."11

We "ordain the spreaders, or makers of books, or libels, or letters"?"repugnant to any of the articles of the true religion publicly preached, and by law established"?"to be punished. All magistrates, sheriffs, etc., are ordained to search for, apprehend, and punish, all contraveners."12 We "give our public testimony against the dangerous tenets of independency, and what is falsely called liberty of conscience."13 Such were our persecutions before the Reformation, and have been since that event among Protestants in Germany, Switzerland, England, and Scotland. Nor were they confined to the other side of the Atlantic. They came with our ancestors to America, and prevailed alike among the puritans of New England, and the cavaliers of Virginia. Happily, our glorious Revolution put them down, and gave freedom of worship and of conscience to our beloved land. Need I here recite the laws, and describe the cruelties practiced upon us, by the Episcopalians of the South, and the Congregationalists of the North? I need not, since they cannot but be to all most familiar. Our fathers have been denounced by every religious faction, condemned in all the Confessions of Faith, led everywhere to prison and to death, and covered with opprobrium in all nations. Politicians as well as religionists have believed that in putting them to death they did God service.

Thus we have shown incontrovertibly that infant baptism leads to religious persecutions. It necessarily makes an ignorant and worldly church, which if it has the power will persecute; it unites the church with the state, and every such church has been and is guilty of religious persecutions; the source from which infant baptism mainly draws the arguments for its support leads the church to acts of persecution; and history shows that all Pedobaptist churches having the power have engaged in persecution, and that their persecutions have been always most violent and bitter against Baptists, principally because we deny, and refuse to practice, infant baptism. The world has never been visited by a more dreadful evil than religious persecutions. No man can read the details of their enormities without shuddering. All feel the deepest disgust. I shall attempt here no description of them. But let it be remembered that persecution is one of the results of infant baptism.

The converse of this proposition is also true, Baptist principles are inimical to persecution. They, in their very nature, repel it in all its hateful forms. And when these principles shall spread themselves over the earth?and they ever have advanced, and ever will advance pari passu with political freedom?religious persecution shall be known no more among men.

It is not a little remarkable that historians, and others, have attributed the first true conceptions of religious liberty to Roger Williams, the Governor of Rhode Island. In this they all evince their total ignorance of Baptist history. Of Williams Bancroft says:?"He was the first in modern Christendom, to assert in its plenitude, the doctrine of the liberty of conscience, the equality of opinions before the law, and in its defense he was the harbinger of Milton, and the precursor, and the superior of Jeremy Taylor."14 I honor Roger Williams for his enlightened conceptions, and his bold action regarding religious liberty. But he was only the representative of all the Baptists who had gone before him, many of whom had written as wisely, as learnedly, and as conclusively as he. When, for example, Galvin had succeeded in bringing Servetus to the stake?one of the most horrid blasphemies alleged against whom, by the way, was his denial of infant baptism?a protest against the proceeding was published by a learned and pious Baptist minister, Mr. David Joris. "It is," said Joris, "an incredible blindness that the servants of Christ, who are sent to give life to the dead through the knowledge of the truth, should condemn the erring to death, and through temporal death expose their souls to eternal ruin. The fight to pass such a sentence belongs to Him alone who gave life, and suffered death for our redemption. Were it lawful to put heretics to death, there would be a general slaughter, since all religious parties regard their opponents as guilty of heresy."15 In Calvin and Joris, you see Presbyterian and Baptist principles regarding religious liberty, in full contrast, long before the days of Roger Williams. Thomas Helwys was another example equally as striking as the Governor of Rhode Island. If the latter stated and defended in the new world, the doctrine of "soul liberty," with great skill and force in his writings, and honorably illustrated it in the planting of a civil state where consciences, however diverse or eccentric, were never oppressed, the former gave in his publications, in the old world, full form and expression to the same sentiments, and maintained them with singular personal boldness, and magnanimity. Helwys was spurned from society, and driven into obscurity. Williams was more fortunate. The small territory that he planted, scarcely noticeable upon the map of the great confederacy of states of which it now forms a part, furnished the example of religious freedom which that confederacy has copied, and which across this wide continent, the millions of our people now account "their highest honor." This was, however, only the embodiment of the great Baptist principle which, from the apostles? times, our churches have all maintained, and defended.

In a Baptist Confession of Faith published in 1611, may be seen the following passage:?"The Magistrate is not to meddle with religion, because Christ is the King, and Lawgiver of the church."16 Let also a few sentences from the distinguished confessor already mentioned, be here pondered. "The power and authority of the king"?he wrote in England?"is earthly, and God hath commanded us to submit to all ordinances of man. Therefore I have faith to submit to what ordinances of man soever the king commands, if it be not against the manifest word of God. Let him require what he will, I must of conscience obey him with my body, goods, and all that I have. But my soul, wherewith I am to worship God, that belongeth to another King, whose kingdom is not of this world, whose people must come willingly, whose weapons are not carnal, but spiritual."

Again, says Helwys:?"I acknowledge unfeignedly, that God hath given to magistrates a sword to cut off wicked men, and to reward the well-doers. But this ministry is a worldly ministry; their sword is a worldly sword; their punishments can extend no further than the outward man; they can but kill the body." "Their ministry is appointed only to punish the breach of outward ordinances, which is all that God hath given to mortal man to punish. The king may make laws for the safety and good of his person, state, and subjects, against which whoever is disloyal, or disobedient, he may dispose of at pleasure. The Lord hath given him the sword of authority, foreseeing in his eternal wisdom, that but for this ordinance of magistracy, there would be no living for men in the world, and especially for the godly. Therefore the godly have particular cause to glorify God for this his blessed ordinance of magistracy, and to regard it with all reverence." And again:?"The breach of Christ?s laws of the which we all this while speak, which is the only thing I stand upon," how is it to be punished? "His kingdom is spiritual; his laws are spiritual; the transgression is spiritual; the punishment also is spiritual?everlasting death." "No carnal or worldly weapon is given for the support of his kingdom."17

These are Baptist sentiments, and they consequently have never, in any country, been engaged in the nefarious work of persecution. To this fact it has, however, sometimes been objected, that their circumstances have always been such that they never possessed the power to persecute. Have we not reason to be surprised at a statement like this? Had Roger Williams and his associates, no such power? Could they not have persecuted the puritans as safely, and as successfully, as the puritans persecuted them? Is it; responded that they did not do so because they were just out of the fires of persecution themselves? But were not the puritans also just out of the fires of persecution? They persecuted the Baptists. The Baptists never persecuted them, but received them into their territory, and though differing with them in opinion, gave them the same religious liberty which they themselves enjoyed. That the Baptist never can become a persecuting church is guarantied by the very nature of its organization. It is composed of none but those who give satisfactory evidence of a change of heart by the Holy Spirit, and voluntarily seek admission to its membership. None others can be received. "A church without a Bishop" to concentrate its designs; steadfastly adhering to the full independence of each particular separate organization; offering to ambitious men no distinctions, and to its members, of whatever grade, no secular advantages; how can she ever engage in the business of persecution? She persecute? Who would she persecute? Not her own communicants, since to them she is bound by the strongest ties of affection, and can, besides, do nothing without their consent. Not those who are out of the church, since over them she has no control. Why would she persecute? To bring men into her communion? She would not have them, until convinced that they were truly converted, nor then, unless it was their unbiased pleasure to come, professing that they did so from a desire to obey our Lord Jesus Christ. She can never be a persecuting church. To become such she must cease to be Baptist.

These are, and ever have been, Baptist principles. They are the principles taught by Christ and his apostles. They demand the freedom of the conscience. They have long been overborne, and trodden under foot; but they are not destined to die. "God is in his truth." It must at length triumph. Our people are rapidly filling the world. They carry with them the Bible. They study it for themselves. They form their own opinions. They submit their consciences to no man. They oppress the conscience of no man. They act upon their convictions of duty. This mental independence, commenced in childhood, soon becomes a habit, and is inevitably extended into every department of life. The character of the people is thus elevated, their powers of thought invigorated, their conceptions purified, and they become truly formidable to tyranny in the state as well as in the church. By such they must always expect to be denounced. But they never can be enslaved. Their principles have ever rendered them obnoxious to despots, and in every absolute government they have been put to death, as the enemies of magistrates and rulers, Light is now, thank God, breaking in upon the world. Truth, political and religious, is gaining ground. The nations must ultimately sever the yoke of their oppressors. And as national liberty extends itself, Baptist principles, and Baptist people, will cover the whole earth.


1 Hereticos et schismaticos pro posse persequar et impugnabo.
2 Hist. Ref., vol 3, p 305.
3 Life of Melancthon, p. 218.
4 He means that nothing but the immersion of believers upon a profession of their faith was by them allowed to be baptism.
5 Most true.
6 D?Aubigne?s Hist. Refor., vol. 3., pp. 306-319.
7 A.D. 1400.
8 See this whole matter in Neal?s Hist. Puritans, N.Y. ed., vol. 2., pp. 353380.
9 Hist. Ref, vol. 2., p. 110.
10 Sect. 1.
11 Sect. 3.
12 Sect. 6, act 2, part 1.
13 Sect. 17.
14 History, etc.vol. 1., p. 375.
15 Henry?s Life and Times of Calvin.
16 Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Freedom, pp. 6-7.
17 Struggles and Triumphs, etc., pp. 11-12.

 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved